An Astrologer's Day

by R. K. Narayan

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An Astrologer's Day Themes

The main themes in An Astrologer’s Day are the desire to know the future and revenge.

  • The desire to know the future: The story centers around the practice of astrology, a traditional technique that promises to reveal the future. This desire on Guru Nayak’s part sets the narrative in motion.
  • Revenge: The story takes a turn when Nayak’s interest in revenge is revealed; the astrologer responds by feeding that desire with a false account.

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Themes

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Fate
Narayan's world is predominantly a Hindu one in which fate plays an important role. Nothing happens by accident and all human actions have consequences. The entire story is based on the astrologer's sense of guilt at having stabbed another young man in the village and then having absconded in order to avoid punishment. The stabbing is later seen to be an act of youthful folly. Nonetheless, the astrologer lives with the fear of being identified, and the curious irony is that it is he who identifies the victim and not the other way about. He does not pay for his crime, but the story ends on the note that he had spent years regretting his deed and that in itself is punishment enough. The story demands a suspension of disbelief, and if credibility is strained at certain points, it is because the author's notion of fate transcends rational explanation. Narayan's depiction of fate does not lead to an attitude of resignation, and it does not preclude the importance of individual actions. There is, however, a sense of a larger scheme within which human actions function.

Religion
Although religion is never emphasized in this story, or for that matter in most of his fiction, it remains a constant preoccupation in Narayan' s writing. In the world that the author depicts religion is a way of life and it becomes an integral part of everyday life. Everything about the astrologer—his palmyra leaves, the holy ash on his forehead, the vermillion—all these are suggestive of an engagement with religion. Ironically, the astrologer is no different from anyone else, and his profession is dependent largely on fooling gullible people. There is no real contradiction between the religious exterior of the astrologer and his profession. The story drives home the fundamental point that religion is not present as a moral force or as an indication of spirituality, but rather as an essential part of life.

Money
For a story that is concerned with moral issues, there is constant reference to money. In fact, for the major part of the story, the astrologer and his client haggle over how much money ought to be paid for the astrologer's services. The story ends with the astrologer's exasperation at having been cheated. Even the wife is described in relation to money, for her concern is with how much her husband earned during the day, and how she would spend the money. The curious juxtaposition of money and spirituality is what gives the story its distinctive texture. While there is an implied contrast between the two, the story also reinforces the coexistence of both.

Modernity
Admittedly, social realism is not Narayan's preoccupation. Issues of caste, gender, class, economic exploitation, and the environment are all incidental aspects of Narayan's work. To say this is not to claim that there is a naive idealism about Narayan that makes him turn away from the realities of modern India. Narayan has lived through a period that witnessed startling changes in India and he reveals in his essays an awareness of their significance. But he is also firmly committed to the idea of a timeless India. Despite all the changes brought about by colonialism, he perceives a fundamental unity in society and a way of life that has remained unchanged. Even in this story the signs of modernization are always present. The casual references to the Town Hall, the different kinds of goods that are being sold, the electric lights and the migration from the village are ways of alerting the reader to the changes that have taken place. At the same time, the texture of life remains unchanged. Institutions such as religion and marriage continue as before and the course of human life is determined by a process that has undergone very little change over time. The juxtaposition of the past and present in a way that privileges the past is one of the distinctive aspects of Narayan's work.

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